Most women become very squeamish at the very mention of a mammogram. However, it is part of my regular health check-up, and since I have breast cancer in my family, it’s one way to ensure that I am reducing my risk.
I’m not going to lie; my biggest fear in life is breast cancer. My grandmother had it, and I know way, way too many people who have had it. And I say had it, because I know many survivors. They are warriors and they are amazing.
I have had a life-long love-hate relationship with my breasts. I had a breast reduction at the age of 28 and don’t regret that decision for one minute. But I also have a family history of breast cancer. And years ago, I was told that I had dense breast tissue. All that adds up to me being an early candidate for mammogram screening and have had one, every other year since about the age of 38.
Last week, it was time for another one.
I got to the lab early and they had me remove everything from the waist up, and put on that lovely, flattering blue gown. The technician was a lovely lady named Devi.
When we got to the room, I told Devi that I wanted to write a blog post about my getting regular mammograms and asked her if I could take a picture of the machine. You know the one that squishes your breast into a pancake, no matter the size or shape? She said yes, and then started to ask me questions about my breast history.
When I mentioned to her that my doctor once told me that I had dense breast tissue. She told me a lot about what that means. Basically it is when breast tissue has many glands close together. Density shows up on mammogram film as white areas, and can make cancer and other masses hard to detect. Women with higher density may also require an ultrasound, or even an MRI as a back-up.
Most young girls have dense breast tissue; it’s what helps their breasts appear perky! As we get older, that density turns to fat. It’s the fat that helps gravity pull those breasts down, and the reason why many women, especially after child birth, have saggy boobs. Having “fat” isn’t good either, but better for a mammogram, because they can detect cancer easier.
So after learning all of that, I felt even more comfortable and we started the screening.
If you have never had a mammogram, while it isn’t the most pleasant experience, it hurts less than a paper cut, in my opinion. It is uncomfortable, but over before you can think to complain.
A mammogram is a safe, low-dose breast x-ray. It can help to detect breast cancer early, when they are even too small for you to feel yourself through a self-screening.
You stand up to the machine and a qualified technician will place your breast, one at a time on the machine. A plastic plate presses down slowly to flatten the breast and hold it in place while the image is captured.
You get two images taken of each breast, from the top, and from the side.
Devi explained that it is the image from the side that captures the broader picture of the breast, including areas in the middle and down the side, which are considered part of the breast and contain breast tissue. It requires some manipulating to get all the tissue into, and onto, the machine, but an experienced technician can do that.
All in all, it was over in about 10 minutes.
She showed me the images, and explained to me that my breast tissue is mostly made up of fat, because it is fairly translucent. And where I thought I had dense tissue, I did not. (She reminded me that we lose that as we age).
I have had about four mammograms done before, and not once did a technician ever show me the images, or talk to me about the test, or my breasts, in so much detail. I could tell that Devi really enjoyed her job and she made me feel so comfortable. She was also pretty happy that I was going to write about it to share with others.
Upon coming out of the room, another technician asked me to come back to the room after I changed. I didn’t think I was getting another procedure done, but I changed out of my robe and went to see what she needed.
When I got there, she handed me a bag, and said that May 14-18 was Mammathon week. The bag contained information around breast cancer and some goodies for me to enjoy. As I looked through the bag, Devi joined me to show me the Thing-a-ma-boob, a very clever keychain aimed to show you how regular mammograms can detect breast cancer before you, or your doctor can.
The keychain has four beads in increasing sizes, or lumps. A mammogram can detect the smallest one, when you go regularly. The second size, about the size of a pea, could be detected in your first mammogram. The third one, about the size of a marble, could be detected by a physical exam by your healthcare provider. And the last one, about the size of a melon ball is the size of lump we could detect when we examine ourselves.
To top off my early morning mammogram, they offered me a cupcake, all in support of breast cancer and regular mammograms, and not only did I say yes, but I thanked the ladies for providing me with such great information, but for also making me feel at ease and so comfortable.
Getting a mammogram shouldn’t be scary. It should be part of your regular heath routine. The Canadian Cancer Society suggests getting a mammogram every two years if you are between the ages of 50-69. However, if you have family history, especially with first relations (mom, dad, siblings), your risk increases and you should speak to your doctor about getting screened early.
And did I mention, regularly?! This isn’t a one-and-done procedure.
Also, be sure to do self-examinations. Know how your breasts feel. Take notice when things feel differently, such as dimpling or lumps. If you are leaking fluid or your nipples change in any way that could be a sign that something isn’t right. Also, if the skin on your breasts changes or there is redness or irritation that doesn’t go away, that could also be a sign. Always notify your doctor if you notice any of these changes.
This is not a sponsored post. It is a post from my most vulnerable place – the place where my deepest fear lives. This is a message to women my age, and older to speak to your doctor about getting a mammogram. Start your regular screening. Check yourself regularly.
And I know there are so many women who fear this procedure. It does hurt, but breast cancer is worse.
It is important to take care of you first. Always.
Mammograms save lives.